The down side of any trip to Sydney has hitherto been the dearth of small bars boasting atmosphere, good music and well made drinks. No longer, friends: changes to Draconian licensing laws a few years ago have finally resulted in a very fine crop of wine, cocktail and dive bars that every visitor should know about.
Shady Pines Saloon is the western-themed bar that changed the game. Filled with more taxidermy than a Canadian hunting cabin, the space boasts a piano and even a dime-store Indian. Terrific bar staff make excellent cocktails, there are free peanuts in the shell, and anybody who’s anybody wants to drink here. Be prepared to queue up after 7pm. Shop 4, 256 Crown St, Darlinghurst.
Former Shady Pines bartenders have opened their own excellent premises. Tio’s is a super-fun tequila bar in lower Surry Hills, a dark cave where you can get a spicy bag of popcorn to go with your Margarita. Grab a Negroni and Coke or a cold tinnie. There’s a huge range of tequilas, a giant neon crab and little Catholic shrines decorating the space. 4-14 Foster St, Surry Hills.
Baxter Inn is modelled on an old-school American sports bar, only with no sport and much better whisky. The candlelit basement bar boasts thick carpet, jazz and blues, and black-and-white boxing photos on the walls. They serve 360 different whiskys and mix a magnificent cocktail (our pick’s the Toronto – rye, Fernet Branca and bitters). 156 Clarence St, Sydney.
Named after the criminal matriarch whose brothels dominated this part of town, Love Tilly Devine is a stylish wine bar in a converted storeroom at the back of a bottle shop. This drinking den deals in some of the most exciting wine you’re likely to taste. 91 Crown Ln, Darlinghurst.
Take a seat, get some wine and get locked into Woollahra’s Wine Library. Once you find yourself at the narrow, packed bar you’ll find it very hard to leave. Food specials include a spit roast. 18 Oxford St, Woollahra (02 9360 5686).
Down the hill at 10 William Street you can select from Italian varietals or perhaps just a noble Negroni. Bar snacks are magical too – especially the salt beef brisket panino. Wines are scrawled on the huge blackboard wall. 10 William St, Paddington.
Tiny wine bar 121 BC offers tremendous value – most wines are $8 a glass and few are more than $10. The by-the-glass gear runs the gamut from Friuli to Abbruzzo, Sardinia and Basilicata. The bar food is sensational and the service is a dream. But arrive early – it’s full by 6.30 every night. Shop 4, 50 Holt St, Surry Hills.
Pass the deer head mounted on the wall on your way down the stairs to Grandma's. Start with a restorative glass of punch then try a Nuclear Daiquiri or a Hemingway. The bar crew are helpful – hell, they’ll even come to you and help you decide what they can fix for you. Basement Lvl, 275 Clarence St, Sydney.
You’re going to want to eat at amazing Argentinean fine diner Porteño, but first get a Spanish beer at the upstairs Gardel's Bar. Or just order a Fernet and cola and a plate of pulled pork sliders and you’re set. 358 Cleveland St, Surry Hills.
Saving the best till last? Head to Time Out Sydney’s 2012 Bar of the Year, Eau de Vie – a tiny speakeasy-style bar in the back of the Kirketon Hotel, where they make the best damned cocktails you’re likely to drink in Sydney. 229 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst.
Seven years since Hilton Sydney reopened after its massive renovation, it's still hard to go past the hotel if you’re after comfortable and stylish digs in this town. 255 Pitt St, Sydney. (02 9266 2000). If you want to save a few pennies to wash down some more drinks at Baxter Inn, then bed down at the Vibe Hotel Sydney, which is located close to both Surry Hills and the CBD. 111 Goulburn St Sydney. (02 8272 3300).
Jetstar, Qantas, Tiger Airways and Virgin Australia fly to Sydney. Qantas offers snacks and complimentary drinks in economy in the afternoons on weekday flights.